Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Friday, September 23, 2022

Dee Dee Nana

Walter and Chuckie Chickadee

Before my children were school aged, I didn’t feed squirrels in the backyard so they wouldn't approach the kids expecting treats before the kids had learned how to recognize which squirrels were steady and reliable, how to choose long peanuts, and how to hold them very steadily at one tip so the squirrel’s mouth would be as far as possible from fingers. Meanwhile, I did feed squirrels on the front porch. My kids could watch through the living room window as I whistled and squirrels scurried right up to me for treats.  

Blue Jays love peanuts just as much as squirrels do and quickly caught on to what my whistling meant. When they heard me at first, they’d fly to the maple tree and watch. Sometimes the squirrels ran to a tree and ate the peanut right away, but they buried most of them in the front yard. Then the moment a squirrel turned its back, a Blue Jay would drop to the ground, dig up the peanut, and fly off to eat it right away or to bury it somewhere else.   

A pair of Blue Jays soon figured out how to skip the middleman. One was braver than the other and started taking peanuts right out of my hand. The other was more skittish, so I’d line up peanuts on our flat porch railing. When I stepped back a safe distance, that one flew in to grab its own treat.   

Laura and Katie at Grandma's house, summer 1984

Our daughter Katie loved watching these big, colorful birds. When she was a year old and still crawling, she learned to pull herself up to stand at the front window to watch them. When I asked her if she wanted to go to the window to see the Blue Jays, she’d say, “Boo Jay!” Yep—Boo Jay was her second word, after Mama. That was cosmically gratifying.   

My little grandson Walter has had several words for a few months now. “Dee Dee” means chickadee, and he uses it when he sees chickadee photos, his own plush chickadee that makes a whistled “Hey, sweetie!” song when he squeezes it, and real-life chickadees that come to the bird feeder. When we take our walks, he points when he hears their song or call and says “Dee Dee!” This spring one chickadee perched on a street sign singing the entire time we walked past it on the sidewalk. He still points to that sign every time we go by and announces, “Dee Dee on Hign.”  

His very first toy from me was a Blue Jay Beanie Baby that we named “Doctor Blue Jay,” which he calls "Docto." He also has a plush Blue Jay that makes the Blue Jay call when he squeezes it. But he doesn’t say anything close to Boo Jay—he refers to every Blue Jay we see as “Docto!”   

Chickadee at the feeder and Dr. Blue Jay in his hand.

“Dada” and “Mama” were among Walter’s first words, but he hardly ever said “grandma”, and when he did, it came it out as gaggy, gaagaa, or something pretty close to “dada.” But a few weeks ago, Katie and Michael brought him to New York where they spent three weeks with Michael’s parents, right when he was picking up words like crazy, and his other grandparents became solidly “Nana” and “Pop.” 

They came home this past weekend, and on Tuesday when Walter and I were looking at a photo of that grandmother and he was pointing and saying “Nana,” suddenly a thought hit him like a thunderbolt. He’s been obsessed with the number 2 since even before his birthday, and now he exclaimed, “TWO Nanas!” He pointed at the picture and said, “Nana!” He pointed at me, laughed, and said, “Dee Dee Nana!” And ever since, he has been calling me "Dee Dee Nana."   

I often feel surges of gratitude that I have been given so very many wonderful days and years, so many wonderful experiences, and so many people I love. But being my dear grandson’s “Dee Dee Nana,” his chickadee grandma, is so unexpectedly and crazily wonderful. That little guy fills me with joy beyond anything.  

Wawa, Dee Dee Nana, and Bear